#PTonICE Daily Show – Friday, December 29th, 2023 – Shoulder IR + EXT: a missing link?

In today’s episode of the PT on ICE Daily Show, Fitness Athlete division leader Alan Fredendall discusses assessing & treating for issues related to shoulder internal rotation & extension limitation with overhead movement in the fitness athlete.

Take a listen to the episode or check out the show notes at www.ptonice.com/blog

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All right. Good morning, everybody. Welcome to the PT on ICE Daily Show. Happy Friday morning. I hope your morning’s off to a great start. We’re here at Fitness Athlete Friday. My name is Alan. I’m happy to be your host today. Currently, I have the pleasure of serving as the Chief Operating Officer here at ICE and the Division Leader in our Fitness Athlete Division. Fitness Athlete Friday, we talk all things fitness athlete, CrossFit, Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, endurance athletes, and any recreationally active person. we talk about how to address those concerns. I have Dr. Haley with me here today. She’s going to be my demo for some hands-on stuff. If you are listening to the podcast right now, I don’t know why I pointed to my ear. If you’re listening, you can’t see me anyway. If you’re listening, please switch over to our YouTube channel and watch the video because about halfway through, I’m going to show a lot of hands-on assessments and techniques, and you’re not going to be able to see that if you are just listening on the podcast.

Today, what are we talking about? We’re talking about the combined motions of shoulder internal rotation and extension in the shoulder, especially its relevance to the fitness athlete. So when we talk about these motions, we’re primarily talking about the subscapularis muscle of the rotator cuff and the shoulder blade. So this muscle gets neglected a lot, mainly because most human beings no longer exercise, which means they are no longer vertically pulling and pushing above their head. So they’re often not needing to use a lot of internal rotation and extension of the shoulder because they live their life with their arms relatively neutral. But if we look at the actual anatomy specifically of the subscap muscle, we know it is actually the largest and strongest rotator cuff muscle. It takes up the whole anterior portion of the shoulder blade on the anterior side of the scapula and is primarily responsible, yes, for internal rotation, but when the arm is elevated or out in front of the body, It also performs some combined motions of adduction and extension. It functions very similar to our lat muscle. So we have our subscapularis and our lat muscle counteracting all the other muscles of the shoulder and the rotator cuff that elevate our arm above and overhead. Most importantly, from the anatomy is knowing the attachment points. It attaches right on the anterior capsule of the shoulder. And when we see referral pattern, we can see anterior shoulder pain, folks point directly to a spot right on their anterior shoulder. But it also has referral into the posterior rotator cuff and into the medial scapular border. So a lot of times we can chase treating the posterior rotator cuff, especially in the fitness athlete when we actually need to be treating subscapularis.

Now how do we know this is a target for treatment? Well that’s going to be revealed in our subjective and objective exam. So when someone comes in and I’m gauging their symptom behavior and I’m getting a list of their eggs and eases, especially with a fitness athlete, I’m looking to hear things like pain with dips, pain with bench, especially in the bottom position of a bench press, things like pain in the turnover, or what we call the catch of a bar or a ring muscle up, handstand push ups, again, especially the lowering the eccentric phase, where we’re now going from an overhead, flexion, abduction, external rotation. And now we’re lowering eccentrically into extension and internal rotation, very similar to the bottom position of a bench press. And then in that pull, that high pull motion that we have in our cleans and snatches with Olympic weightlifting. So when I hear aggs like that, my hypothesis list subscapularis jumps up. I’m looking to assess internal rotation and extension in that athlete, much more so than that sedentary person who comes in and complains of shoulder pain. I’m really not thinking this person is probably having a lot of issues with loaded internal rotation extension in the gym. because they don’t go to the gym, right? That is a person where I’m probably going to look to the posterior rotator cuff and maybe the lats for strengthening and the delts for strengthening and just basically get that person’s shoulders stronger versus specifically addressing a specific muscle like the subscapularis, which I would with a fitness athlete. So let’s talk about how to actually assess the shoulder. So I have Haley here. We’re going to demonstrate on her shoulder. You’re all probably very familiar with this seated screen. It’s something you learned in school. We’re going to go through it really quickly. So having Haley lift her arm up and overhead and sitting to look at flexion, coming out to 90 degrees to look at abduction. We can meet in the middle and look at scaption at that 45 degree angle like that. We can put our arm at our side and now we can look at extension. And then we can hold our arm at a side and we can go across the stomach, internal rotation, and then out away to look at external rotation. Now what do we like about that screen? It’s a screen, that’s it. I hate almost all of that for the fitness athlete. Why? It’s really not challenging a lot of true end range positions, especially of extension and internal rotation. The main thing to remember about internal rotation is if Haley’s arm is at her side and she’s internally rotating, she can palpate on herself. When the arm is at the side, the pec is the main mover there. It’s not actually subscap or the deltoid at all. So when the arm is at the side, we’re not even challenging actual internal rotation. We’re using nothing about the subscap at all. Likewise, if we’re seated and we’re going through extension, I need to know how can I challenge sheer force to the shoulder like it might encounter in a bench press, a muscle up, a handstand pushup. I can’t do that in sitting.

So for fitness athletes, we need to ditch the sitting exam and we need to go prone for the shoulder. So I’m gonna have Haley lay on her stomach here. We’re gonna look at her left shoulder. We’re going to look at internal rotation first. So I want her arm out at 90 degrees, about parallel with her shoulder, and I’m going to instruct her to bring her palm up towards the ceiling. And I want to look at that internal rotation. So we’re cheating a little bit here, a little bit of abduction, but we have a really good assessment of internal rotation here. I can overpressure this as well. Haley, don’t let me put your hand down. And I can look to see if that’s symptom-provoking. So that is how I will assess internal rotation. Is the motion full? Is it provocative with an overpressure test? We can also look at extensions. I’m going to have her scooch a little bit to her right. She’s going to bring her arm up at the table next to her side, and then she’s going to lift her arm up in the air. And I’m looking to see, again, does she actually have full straight plane extension, or does she drift out into a lot of abduction? Good motion here. Same thing. I’m going to overpressure this. Don’t let me push you down. And I’m going to see, is that symptom-provoking? So I’m going to challenge extension in a manner where gravity is providing sheer force through the labrum for me to see if that’s provocative. And then I’m also going to overpressure the arm to see if I can overpressure and get any symptom provocation out of the shoulder. The last test that I will do is I’ll have Haley stand up and then she’s going to turn her back to the camera. We call this the liftoff test. It’s also called Gerber’s test. Very old test, almost 30 years old now. Tons of great research on it. So I’m going to ask her to pick a hand and I’m going to have her put it in the small of her back. And really I’m going to see how far up her back she can go with that hand. So can she go any higher? Good. Some of you might measure range of motion this way. That’s great. I usually see what level of the spine can the thumb get to. Very functional for women, right? Somebody that can’t even put their hand in the small of their back is probably going to have a lot of trouble with something like taking a bra on and off. But we get a good measure of range of motion. We know that if she can reach the small of her back, we’re primarily now looking at subscap. A really good study by Greece and colleagues way back in 1996 found that if someone can get their hand in the small of their back versus down at their glutes, that just by getting it higher to the low back, we can get 33% more subscap activation. So I know if a person can achieve this position, they have really good range of motion out of that subscap muscle and that we’re primarily now looking at subscap in isolation. What do we do now? We do the actual lift off. So I’m going to have Haley lift her hand away. She can lift her hand away and keep it approximately in the small of her back. And then if that’s not pain provoking, at this point I am confident in ruling out subscap. Why? This test has 99% sensitivity. If that is negative, I can cross subscap off my hypothesis list and now I can look a little bit deeper into the shoulder. All of that has only taken us eight and a half minutes with a lot of talking. This is something you could probably do in a minute or less in the clinic and immediately rule out the subscap and be really confident that it’s not the subscap. So, Haley, go ahead and have a seat.

So, what if it is a subscap, right? What if somebody like me walks in, my left shoulder looks okay, my right does not, Immediately I’m thinking I know which side I’m going to treat. I know which muscle I’m going to treat. We’re going to talk about treatment next week. Zach Long is going to get on here. But the main thing is we need to restore that internal rotation range of motion, especially under load. Why? These folks are using this range of motion in the gym or they’re trying to use it, which is maybe why they’re bumping into symptoms with things like handstand pushups and Olympic lifting and muscle ups and that sort of thing. So we need to restore that full internal rotation range of motion. we need to increase its load tolerance, and we need to, in general, get the shoulders stronger, both delts and lats. But specifically, working on the subscap is going to give a lot of benefit to that athlete. So someone like me, I would needle my own right subscap, try to improve some of that range of motion, and then try to load that internal rotation. We’ll talk more about treatment next week with Zach. He’s gonna do a follow-up episode specifically on how to treat the subscap for the fitness athlete. So make sure you tune in next Friday. That’s all we have for you today. I hope you have a fantastic weekend. Courses coming your way. Head on over to ptinex.com. Remember, all of our courses priced at $6.50 will become $6.95 on Monday. So if you have a course on your list, make sure you buy it over the next couple days and avoid that price increase. All of our courses from the fitness athlete division are on PTONICE.com. Hope you have a fantastic weekend. Have a wonderful new year. See you next week. Bye everybody.

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